Tag Archives: quilting

Let’s Make Faces

Look what I did!

I hope you are enjoying a beautiful summer: picnics, camping, swimming, baseball…

But, when you are ready to come in, cool off, and do something creative, I invite you to join me in a portrait quilt class or workshop.  There are spaces open in these locations:

CraftU Courses are once again open for registration: 

 August 13 – Brigham City Museum, Brigham City, Utah.

Jo's self portrait

Jo’s Self portrait

September 30-October 2, 2016 – Quilt & Fiber Arts Festival, LaConner Quilt & Textile Museum, LaConner, Washington

October 15-16, Jukebox Quilts Store, Fort Collins, Colorado

Portraits on Parade

Portraits on Parade


“Portrait Quilt Workshop” Sat-Sun, October 15-16, 2016. Call (970) 224-9975 for more information.

January 19-22, 2017, Road to California Quilter’s Conference, Ontario, California


Golden Mean Calipers Part 2: Crop a Picture

This is my second video on how to use the Golden Mean Calipers.  This week I show you how use them to crop a photo around a focal point so that the outer dimensions are harmonious and the subjects in the composition are well placed. These calipers are available in my web store.  If you find these videos interesting or helpful, subscribe so that you get notified whenever I post a new one.  I’m trying to do this once a week until I run out of things to say—like that could ever happen.

Calipers video part 2

calipers 2


Travel is Good for Art

I’m pulling out the suitcase and getting ready for travel in the coming days. Please come and say “Hello.”

  • Next weekend, at the opening reception for “Interpretations: Celebrating 30 Years” at the Visions Art Museum in San Diego.
  • Oct. 28-Nov. 1 in Houston at the International Quilt Festival. Look for me in booth #2014. I’ll be sharing space with Mary Vaneecke of El Sol Quilting Studio.

jenny-leaI just spent two days in a pictorial quilt workshop. This time, I’m a student, not the teacher. Jenny Bowker has made her way from Australia to Colorado and shared her techniques and lots of hilarious stories from her travels.

Usually, I take workshops that cover techniques very different from my own and I do it to get out of my comfort zone. I have to say it was very rewarding to learn from someone who also makes realistic representational work, similar to my own.  Check out Jenny’s work.

Her technique for expanding the pictorial panel with traditional blocks is something I just might use in the near future. Her applique technique to make blocks that simulate ceramic tiles similar to those I loved in Turkey is also on my “Must Do” list.

In preparing for the workshop, I selected a photo of Palmyra, Syria that I took back in the 90’s, when I was teaching in Turkey. Coincidentally, she once lived in Syria and she recognized my photo right away. I was a nice connection. Also, for some time now, I’ve wanted to incorporate some of the designs from Turkish art in my quilts, and now I have some fresh ideas for how to do that.  Here is the panel that I completed of Palmyra. Check back in a few months to see what becomes of it.


Bike Boys Ride a New Machine

After a week of taking care of other responsibilities, I’m back to work on the Bike Boys.  Today I loaded them on the long arm quilting machine.  This was no small task since pieces are still coming loose.  

In addition to the backing and batting, I’ve inserted a layer of painters canvas under the Bike Boys appliqué.  This will help to stabilize the piece as it is stitched.  A layer of fine tulle netting goes over the top.  This will keep all of those raw edges from getting fuzzy and will help to hold the small bits in place as I stitch.  Because of the difficulties with the fusible, I did not wrap the the appliqué layer around the bars of the frame.  I was afraid it would all come apart.  

The most time-consuming part of the process is getting rid of all those little bits of thread and fluff.  I have to carefully run a lint roller over the surface, and then over the tulle.  The tulle seems to have a lot of static electricity so things keep jumping back on to it.  

Finally, it is all pinned in place and lint free.  I’ll wrap up this work session by doing some outline stitching around various spots, just enough to hold all the layers in place as I roll the composition back and forth when the real thread-painting gets started tomorrow.

All goes well, until I stand back to appreciate my progress and what do I spot??  Two little what spots of lint trapped under the tulle.  



Multiple Lives

A few years ago I wrote my first article about making portrait quilts.  It appeared in the July 2011 issue of Quilting Arts Magazine.  Just in case you missed it the first time, the article has found a second life in a new ebook available from Interweave Press.  The ebook is a collection of four articles that have previously been published.  This is a great chance to review several artists’ perspectives and techniques for making portrait quilts. Check out the Quilting Arts website to download your copy.  Then, please, let me know your thoughts, and send pictures if you make a portrait quilt of your own (especially if you use  my technique).  My email Send your pics to mccomasfiberart@aol.com


On the Other Hand

Not quite right?

Back home and unpacked, my attention returns to the artwork.  I want to update you and the Gold Miner’s hand.  I’ve done a bit more work and thank that they are finally right–just right!!

To review, a few weeks ago I finished a new piece, with the exception of the figure’s hand.   Here is how it looked then:

 I’m striving to better understand the use of value, temperature.  Initially, I used cooler threads for the hand in the background and warmer threads for the hand in the foreground.  The contrast was too great and the back hand looked necrotic.

Much better!

Realizing that I needed to blend  threads from each hand into the other, I searched for more information.  Jim, my husband and live-in art teacher, gave some instruction and guided me through observations of my own hands.  I studied hands painted by old masters such as Titian, and Raphael. Then, it was time to re-attack. 

Keeping  in mind the direction of the light source, and reflected light from the water, as well as the tissues under the skin such as bone, muscle, or veins, I went back to work.  I think these new hands are a big improvement and I’m declaring this piece finished!

Now, it’s time to turn my thoughts and energy to the next new piece:  six guys on a bike.  Check back and I’ll keep you posted on the progress.


A Tale of 2 Quilt Shows

The lovely facade

I’d like to start with something like, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,”  but in actuality, it was bad and then it got even worse.


I began last Saturday in the English countryside, where I was staying with a dear friend.  I did a quick check of email before loading into the car a driving to the Fetsival of Quilts in Birmingham, England.  I discovered that one of my art pieces, on display in the US, was being censored.  Really? My work??


The ugly truth.

I’m part of a group called Boundless Fiber Artists.  Our latest group challenge was to use a kimono as the base for our work.  We had created an exhibit called “Kimono Kakushin” which means:  the kimono repurposed or reinvented.  It was on display in Colorado at the Rocky Mountain Quilt Festival.  I created a piece titled “The Thin Veneer”  On the back were images of geishas being beautiful and graceful, and, inside the front was a panel with images of Japanese soldiers committing acts of violence against captives.  It was meant to be a statement about how cultures often present as one thing when they are really something very different at the  core of it.  It is human nature to want to show our best selves, but it is not necessarily who we truly are.  This piece was about bringing to light unpleasant truths. 

It seems that someone took exception to my work and had the front closed so that the unpleasantness could not be viewed.  Of course, the artwork now becomes pointless, or perhaps just a victim of the same mentality it was meant to expose.  I was very much displeased with being censored and did not want my artwork to be exhibited in the altered state, but, what can you do half a world away?  I requested that the kimono be removed and the empty stand left on exhibit to speak of the assault on freedom of expression. 


Lea without the Bread Boys, holding back tears

Meanwhile, back in the UK, we arrived to the Festival of Quilts.  Once inside the hall, I acquired a program and set off to find my “Turkish Bread Boys”.  It was entered in the pictorial competition and I had high hopes of winning a prize.  It was quilt # 919. Walking down the aisle, I saw 916, 917, 918, 920… What? It wasn’t there, A quick look around and there was no sign of it. We hurried to the information desk to seek and explanation.  A lovely woman led us back to the correct area, where we retraced our steps.  No, it still wasn’t there.  A panic was rising from my core. After checking with people in the admin office, it was revealed that my piece had never arrived.  They attempted to chase it down through the day, while we walked around and tried to enjoy the rest of the exhibits.  In the end, there was still no sign of the quilt.


Sweet Song from an Old Fiddle is a crowd pleaser

 Another of my works, “Sweet Song from and Old Fiddle,” was being shown as part of a special exhibit titled Metaphors on Aging.  This was well received and people were so complimentary about the piece that it did help take some of the sting out of  losing the Bread Boys.  Those boys, when they finally do get home, they will be in so much trouble.


This weekend that was to be the big finish to a great summer, has suddenly fallen flat.  I’d like to end with a cheerful note, but I can’t.  I write this at 2:00 AM sitting up in a strange hotel room, unable to sleep, wondering what fresh hell tomorrow will bring.


Making Faces, and Hands

Bread Boys


Whew!  I finished a new piece last night: Bread Boys.  It has taken me all summer, but it is

Peruvian Girl

finally completed.  The excitement isn’t just at completing the piece, but at doing it well.  At least, I think so.  With this piece, I was really striving to improve my threadwork on faces and hands.  In works that I did last summer and fall, I felt that my faces had become too blocky or cartoonish looking.  I had simplified the process in order to be able to teach it to others, but went to far, and lost some of the realism I was striving to attain.  This time, I doubled the number of threads that were used in each face from 5 to 10 and really worked on blending the

Bread Boy

colors and values so that there were not clear divisions between value areas.  Here is a of picture of one of my older faces and a new one.



Sausage hands from Native Faces II


I also put extra focus into the hands of these boys.  A chronic problem is that the fingers often come out looking like sausages.  I went to my mentor, teacher, and husband for advice from someone who paints these features quite well.  He taught me that hands should be thought of in a series of flat planes joined together, not rounded tubes.  Sections of the fingers should be treated like boxes joined together.  Here are photos of previous work next to these new hands.  I’m still not completely happy with the new hands and will

Bread Boy hand

continue to improve on this feature in my next piece…The Cobbler.  His hands will be a real challenge!


Women, Peace and Security

Wow! I’m going to Geneva to speak at the United Nations Headquarter for Europe.  When I was asked to speak, I immediately said, “YES”.  It was 2 hours later, on my drive home from work that I had the anxiety attack, “What would I say?  What would I wear?  The journey to this point was short and sweet.

The Mending

The Mending

My fist project of the new year was to complete a small art quilt for an exhibit to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Security Council Resolution on Women, Peace and Security.  I discovered the event through a Facebook friend who directed me to the QuiltChallenge.org website.  (Thanks, Rose!)  I was a late comer to the party (15 days to the deadline), but inspiration hit and I was able to complete the piece in time.  Here is a photo of the quilt and the accompanying artist statement:

Women, the world over, toil daily to provide essentials for their families.  They strive to provide such tangibles as food, clothing, shelter, and the intangibles of safety, security,  and love.  Such tasks are further complicated by relentless threats of destruction.   Women find themselves continually mending the fabric of their lives, trying to restore beauty and function in the aftermath of war, greed, and lust.

This quilt began as a collage of photos collected over a decade of living, working, and traveling overseas.  Many are my own.  A friend who has traveled extensively as a medical volunteer contributed others.  The quilt top was then torn, cut, burned and shot; literally, tearing families apart. Finally, the woman’s hands are shown working to stop the destruction, mend the damage, and repair the vision.

Shortly after submitting the work, I was notified that it would be included in the exhibit, that it would open at the beginning of March in Geneva and then later travel to DC  and NY.  As if that wasn’t thrill enough, my husband proposed that we travel to Geneva to see the exhibit.  The trip was his gift to me to celebrate my 50th birthday.  And the icing on the birthday cake: being asked to speak at the opening reception as one of the quilters.

I took on this challenge because I thought it would be a great way to connect and gain deeper understanding of the challenges faced by women around the world.  I believed it would be an enlightening and rewarding experience; I never expected it to be so exciting!

The Mending - Close up of hands